Skilled workers still needed in Fort McMurray despite low oil prices, labour minister says

Both Alberta's labour minister and a vice president at Syncrude say Alberta still needs skilled labour despite the province's economic downturn. And that demand is expected to increase in the coming months.

Skilled labour demandexpected to rise in aftermath of Fort McMurray wildfire

Skilled trades like welders and electricians are still in demand in Alberta according to the province's Labour Minister, Christina Gray. (Shutterstock)

Think low oil prices means low demand for skilled workers in Fort McMurray? Think again,Alberta's labour minister and a Syncrude vice-president both said Tuesday.

"I am hearing from some of the major employers that there is still that need for skilled employees," Labour Minister Christina Gray said at an event to mark 25 years of Keyano College's co-op apprenticeship training program.

"The price of the oil has been depressed and that's absolutely had an impact on our economy, but Alberta has been through this before. The price of oil will go back up."

On Tuesday, Gray and officials from Suncor Energy and Syncrude Canada honoured the successes of Keyano's apprenticeship program.

The program, called Careers: The Next Generation, was started after Syncrude expressed concern the industry would suffer from a labour shortage. Oil companies say that's still a worry today.

Jim Richards, Syncrude's vice-president of maintenance, confirmed that the company is still recruiting tradespeople and is constantly looking at how it will replace its aging workforce.

Syncrude’s Vice President of Maintenance, Jim Richards, urges young people not to give up on trades. He says Syncrude still needs skilled workers, especially to replace an aging workforce. (David Thurton/ CBC News)

"Certainly there's been a downturn in the industry. But the facilities that we have still need to be maintained, and that requires a skilled workforce to do that," Richards said.

Neither Gray nor Richards had numbers at hand to show how many skilled workers are searching for work or are needed in Fort McMurray.

But Gray said she's looking forward to September's jobs report, after July's report excluded Fort McMurray because statisticians couldn't gather numbers during the wildfire.

The labour minister also expects Fort McMurray's rebuilding boom after the wildfire to create huge demand for skilled labour in the province.

Uncertain future for graduates

With a year to go before graduation, third-year electrical student Adam Barrie said he knows his job prospects won't be as lucrative as his friends have enjoyed in previous years.

Despite those diminished opportunities, Barrie said he's still optimistic about his future in the trades, even if he has to leave the province to find work.

"I have a few friends who finished the co-op program and they could choose between the three major companies and say, 'Yep, this is the job offer that I want to take,'" Barrie said.

"Whereas now I don't think you have that freedom."

Adam Barrie, a third-year electrical student at Keyano College, says he knows he might not find a job right away when he graduates next year. (David Thurton/ CBC News)